Visual Slices of Life: Views from Conferences

Here are two photo collages from two conferences that I am in the midst of: our Western Massachusetts Writing Project Spring Symposium and the Teaching and Learning Conference (tied in with Digital Learning Day).

And the session I facilitated around remixing …

Lots to share and little time to do it …

Peace (in the whirlwind),

PS — Here’s a bonus from a session on Scratch that I sat in on:


Anatomy of a Tweet

Anatomy of a WMWP Tweet

Next week, our Western Massachusetts Writing Project is hosting a Spring Symposium called “Technology, Assessment and Justice for All” and one of the opening events is a series of digital stations with student work (for example, I will have some student-created videos games up for folks to play). We also want to help teachers think about Twitter, and will have a “Post Your First Tweet” station set up, with our WMWP Twitter account ready to go.

In thinking of how to help people see what Twitter is about, I decided to do an “anatomy of a tweet.” I’ve seen others do similar tutorials before, and I kept mine rather simple. We are also hoping that folks already on Twitter will use our hashtag (#wmwpsj) that night and we will be setting up a Twitter Fall of some sort.

WMWP Invite to Spring Symposium

There’s still time to register, if you are in Western Massachusetts. I hope to see you (and tweet you) there!

Peace (in the tweet),

We Made. We Hacked. We Played.

I invited a small group of our Western Massachusetts Writing Project to my home yesterday for a Make/Hack/Play session. These are folks on our WMWP Tech Team. Along with great conversations and connections, we got down to making, hacking and playing.

First, we used paper circuitry to think about scientific discovery, writing and map making. Everyone created their own map — either literal or metaphorical or symbolic — and then we created a paper circuit board to light up the important nodes on our maps.

Second, we dove into Webmaker’s Popcorn Maker to create video projects. I shared the one I did, using the I Have A Dream speech with overlays, and a few other folks also tinkered with social justice-themed video projects.

It was a blast and for my visitors, the paper circuitry and Popcorn Maker were relatively new experiences (one of the Tech Team folks had participated in a paper circuitry session at another WMWP event.) I’m grateful to have colleagues who would give up part of Saturday to make/hack/play and think about learning in new and interesting ways.

What did you make today? You can always remix my I Have a Dream video. Just click remix and dive in.

Peace (in the remix),

Making/Hacking/Playing with WMWP

Make Hack Play LEDs
This morning, I have a small group of folks from our Western Massachusetts Writing Project Tech Team (which I lead as as the co-director of technology for WMWP) coming over to my house to do a Make/Hack/Play session. We’re connecting together over coffee to play around with paper circuitry first — we will be making “maps” (metaphorical or literal) that we will light up “nodes” of interest.

Then, we will shift over to Webmaker’s Popcorn Maker for remixing of video and media. My hope is that we will use MLK’s I Have a Dream speech as the center and then layer in media on top of or inside of the video. My friends have not ever used Popcorn, so I am curious to see how best to guide them into it.

webmaker popcorn overview

This is what I created this morning:

This small group work will also help me and a WMWP technology team colleague think about an upcoming presentation at a WMWP Spring Symposium, where we are facilitating a session around student agency with media and technology. She teaches a college course on using media and I am leading the hands-on portion, where folks in the session will be using Popcorn for remix.

WMWP Invite to Spring Symposium


(If you are in Western Mass, please consider coming to the Symposium. The registration signup is here: )

Peace (in the make),


Gathering Resources on PARCC (via Diigo Outliner)

Parcc Outline in Diigo
I am working with a team as consultants to an urban STEM middle school, where PARCC is on the horizon and administrators and teachers are starting to get nervous.  They work in a large school district, where data and test numbers matter in what one could only say is out of proportion to the work being done by these teachers. I don’t blame them for getting nervous about PARCC. There are shifts coming and the sense in the school is that students are not quite ready for the expectations of the writing. Maybe not the teachers, either.

So, as much to help them as to help me and my colleagues (PARCC is coming for us, too, but not this year) think about this testing, I tinkered around with a new tool in Diigo called Outliner, which allows you to outline bookmarks with notes. It seemed to work pretty well for me.

See what you think, and feel free to use any of the resources. Notice my first two resources and also my last category .. keeping teaching and learning in perspective as best as we can, you know?

Check out my PARCC Outliner Resource

Peace (yep, PARCC),

Words Upon the Wall: A Gift of Song

For everyone who is in all of my various online networks and communities and adventures, I thank you. Here is a song, with some animated words, as my humble thanks for all the inspiration and support you give me throughout the year as I write and explore and learn.

Peace (with words on the wall),

Honoring Anne Herrington at WMWP

(I thought I had shared this out earlier but I guess not …. never too late …)

Anne Herrington, whose work in the field of composition and digital writing, as well as her leadership for many years in our Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the National Writing Project, was honored this past weekend with the Pat Hunter Award at WMWP’s Best Practices.

I’ve known Anne for many years and have worked closely with her on many projects, and her work and inquiry and approach to issues always struck me as very insightful and full of wonder. She led our WMWP through a very difficult time in recent years, before stepping down as WMWP site director, and her continued interest in digital literacies in many forms helped inform my own work as a classroom teacher.

Here, Anne accepts the Pat Hunter Award (named after one of the earlier site directors of our writing project whose legacy still shapes who we are) with her usual insightful commentary on the work we do, and the learning community we are part of with the writing project.

Peace (to Anne),

Scenes from a PD (Nurturing a Culture of Writers)

Six Word Memoirs

I have the good fortune to be part of a team through our Western Massachusetts Writing Project who is working with an urban middle school around the theme of “Nurturing a Culture of Writers” this year. I won’t say everything is completely smooth and easy. The teachers we are working with are overwhelmed with initiatives this year, and we are having them do a lot of reading and planning around writing with their students.

Six Word Shoutouts

The other day, as part of our opening “writing into the day” activity, we had them write Six Word Memoirs and then, Six Word Shout-outs — noticing someone else and giving them praise. You’d be surprised at how powerful six words can be and how this simple activity, with both its inward and outward look, really changed the tone of the session, and set the stage for some incredible discussions and activities around writing in the content areas.

I worked with math teachers for part of the day, and talking about using writing in the math class is always tricky. We used the “newspaper front page” activity as an example of public writing (which was our theme). We had fun creating articles and then discussing connections to content understanding.

Newspaper Front Page

We were very pleased with how our professional development day went with these teachers, who are all so dedicated to helping their students make progress with writing and higher order thinking. I worry that they are being spread so thin by an ever-increasing series of mandates from their district, and from our state.  You can see it in their faces, and in their body language. I admire their resiliency, and appreciate that they bought into our writing PD over the four hours we were with them.

Peace (in making PD count),

The Conundrum of Talking about Access, Equity, and Diversity

The topic at the Connected Courses is all on the topic of access, equity and diversity. While I know the lens is to think about how to build and facilitate online learning spaces that reflect these values, the theme and topic got me thinking about my Western Massachusetts Writing Project. A number of years ago, we were involved in the National Writing Project’s Project Outreach initiative as a way to do some soul-searching about the teachers we were reaching (or not reaching) and the students who were being impacted by our PD programs (or not being impacted).

WMWP Project Outreach from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

The study looked at regional demographics, socio-economics, membership in our local writing project, surveys and written reflections of various people within the writing project and beyond the writing project, and so much more. The result of all that work were clear signs that we were not doing enough to target our urban centers and our teachers of color, and therefore, the students in those urban and rural schools, particularly where poverty was a significant issue. We had some changes to make if we believed we needed to reach a wider audience with our work.

These days, as we consider PD programs for schools and teachers, we now make sure we consider issues of equity and access as part of our criteria. We moved some of our WMWP board meetings into a nearby urban center, away from the University of Massachusetts. We are using NWP funding for PD programs targeted for schools in underserved areas with struggling socio-economic issues.

These insights also led to the collaborative writing of a Vision Statement aimed to reflect a diverse stand.

The mission of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, a local site of the National Writing Project, is to create a professional community where teachers and other educators feel welcomed to come together to deepen individual and collective experiences as writers and our understanding of teaching and learning in order to challenge and transform our practice. Our aim is to improve learning in our schools — urban, rural and suburban.

Professional development provided by the Western Massachusetts Writing Project values reflection and inquiry and is built on teacher knowledge, expertise, and leadership.

Central to our mission is the development of programs and opportunities that are accessible and relevant to teachers, students, and their families from diverse backgrounds, paying attention to issues of race, gender, language, class and culture and how these are linked to teaching and learning.

But I have to say, the push into social justice and the guiding of our writing project into themes of equity and access and diversity has not been without its cost. We’ve lost long-time writing project members who worry that the original mission of helping teachers and their students with writing has been sidelines by the push into a more politicized stance. Some have grown a bit weary of the constant social justice themes. These are not educators who don’t believe in these issues, just that by making them so visible and so constant, we’ve made those themes the emerging identity of the writing project.

Frankly, I find myself mixed on the whole issue. I do believe in increasing access, instilling equity in the educational system and fostering diversity so that we have different points from which to connect and speak. I strongly believe in the ethos of the National Writing Project, of teachers teaching teachers. I hope that the work we do filters down into the classrooms of urban, rural and suburban communities, nurturing a generation of strong writers. I think that our writing project’s advocacy against standardized testing as the sole measure of student growth and, possibly, teacher evaluations is commendable.

We’re planning a spring symposium right now that meshes issues of technology, social justice and educational assessment issues under one roof for discussions and workshops and break-out sessions, and conversations. We’re even trying to hold the symposium in a new UMass facility that just opened up in the large urban center of our region.

Still, when many discussions come filtered through the social justice lens, it can feel as if the “writing” part of things and the “teaching” elements get lost in the rhetorical shuffle, replaced by a political action lens. And to be honest, the teachers we are most trying to reach with our social justice themes are swamped with other requirements for their profession. Adding a symposium or weekend event to their over-worked schedule is tricky and requires a bit of public relations/media savviness of our part. We need to make the offering practical while also diving deep into some sensitive issues.

The topics of “access, equity, diversity” are so highly rhetorically-charged in education that we sometimes lose sight of the kids, struggling to learn in classrooms in schools without enough resources. And don’t forget the teachers, our colleagues who are stressed by the increasing strain of data collection and growth charts. It’s all about the balance.

Peace (in the think),


Poetry Analysis with Meme Creation

I had the good fortune to sit in on a workshop at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the topic was how to use memes for literary analysis, with a look at poetry in particular. The presenter was a middle school teacher, Jacqueline Desmarais, and she had us looking at memes and then using them to analyze Emily Dickinson’s poem, I’m Nobody – Who Are You?. This piece speaks to fame, and privacy, so connects nicely to the issue of viral media in this modern age.

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –  
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –  
To an admiring Bog!

Jacqueline asked us to create a few memes, based on the poem itself, and here are two that I came up with, as rebuttals to privacy issues.



Next, we had to write an analysis of our meme creation, which is a smart way to bring thinking into the activity.

This is what I wrote:

I chose Grumpy Cat and Dos Equis man for my two memes inspired by the Emily Dickson poem, I’m Nobody. Staying within context and structure of the meme can be tricky, as you are fitting an idea into a prescribed slot. Plus, the visual literacy skills rise to the surface here. Add in the tone of humor or satire or sarcasm, and you notice rather quickly that tere’s a lot going on with composing a meme.

For the Grumpy Cat meme, I used the caption “Face Recognition Software Found Me …. It was awful.”

For the Dos Equis meme, I wrote, “I don’t always share my data with Pearson…. but when I do, I’m Nobody.”

I was aiming to get at the poem’s central idea of controlling your identity, and keeping that privacy sacred. In these times where corporations are leveraging technology and digital media, and social networking spaces, for their own financial gains, it is increasingly difficult to keep that privacy wall up, short of not participating in the technological revolution now underway. With our students, this is an issue, and teaching them about the benefits and the drawbacks of engagement with digital media and online spaces is a critical part of preparing them for the world.

We can do this without the fear tactics – of bringing in the district attorney’s office and state police units to talk about violations and legalities. We need to put the agency of privacy and identity into the hands of our students. They need tools. They need clear information. They need us to be on their side, and not always in a punitive manner. Using memes to help teach this lesson could be just one way into the digital composition.

What I was thinking was a natural extension from this lesson is the idea of a remix, of changing the tenor and tone of the meme, and for making their own localized memes – cultural references that only can be “read” by a local audience (school-based, for example). This would provide some intriguing discussions around the concept of viral information, in both the possibilities and the drawbacks.

Peace (in the meme),